Letters

The contracting process

Steven Kelman is rightly concerned that the government could lose the benefit of multiple task-order contracting due to directed sole-source ordering [FCW, May 11]. Presumably, users direct the order because contracting personnel would otherwise purchase undesired items. (Determining low price should not be an issue).

[Purchasing undesired items] could occur only if contracting personnel acted on the basis of lowest price alone or if they misunderstood the [users'] requirement or the market— both superficially communication issues.

However, I submit the root problem is the contract process itself.

n Price. If users direct orders to higher-priced solutions and there is no requirement or product issue, users are simply making bad choices— for good or bad reasons. Kelman has advocated user accountability; which apparently is not occurring or else it is not being documented.

n Product desires. If users direct orders to specific products or vendors, most likely there are unarticulated factors, such as new or improved product features, or preferences, such as product support. If full user articulation were possible and practical, this problem would not occur. The information product marketplace is exceptionally robust, and products, prices and uses change constantly.

Lead times, duplicative effort and miscommunication when going through the contracting process are inefficient results from the user perspective. Users should be best able to determine which products should be selected and from which vendor, but they are not best at framing broadly based, enterprisewide business issues. Probably as a result of the foregoing points, users view directed orders as being in the government's best interest.

n Contract process. Multiple awards are being made, but without them being organized, the advantages due all parties will not be obtained. The government shifted from large, marginally flexible, single awards to many insignificant ones. Competition moved to the order level, achieving flexibility. But with many contracts and schedules available, none really represents a business relationship.

This outcome was predictable and avoidable. By reducing the number of alternatives but maintaining a few and the best contract choices, we can craft meaningful and truly strategic business relationships that offer higher sales to industry as well as lower prices to government, improved planning and results (for both) with many obvious management advantages (for both).

Mark Werfel

Army

The views expressed in this letter are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of the Army.

Spectrum change

An article on Page 24 of the June 15 FCW contains a serious error in technical writing.... Specifically, 25KHz is not part of the radio spectrum covered by the changes in government radio communications services. Rather, the terms 25 KHz and 12.5 KHz as used in L. Scott Tillett's article refer to channel spacings. The 12.5 KHz term refers to the new spacing that is coming into more common use....

The spectrum from which many government agencies are migrating is in the 160 MHz and 400 MHz regions, generally speaking, and the area to which many are moving is around 800 MHz and sometimes even higher.

There is radio communications activity at 12.5 KHz and 25 KHz, but it is...used only by a few specialized long-range radio communications services.

Thomas W. Donohoe

Washington, D.C.

NICS fee unconstitutional

Your editorial headlined "Don't gun down a good deal" [FCW, June 22] is based on a "straw man" argument. You assert that by charging for access to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, the FBI is only doing what people have long desired: behaving like the private sector.

Allow me to illustrate the fallacy of your position.

First, you tell us that the FBI is only trying to defray its costs of operation. The U.S. Constitution makes it clear that Congress has the power to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises" to pay for its debts. None of these powers allow for charging for services rendered. I guess you should call this a tax; otherwise, it's directly unconstitutional.

As for [a government agency] emulating the private sector, you misconstrue the intent. Providing quality goods and services with minimal cost to taxpayers is all the public wants. What distinguishes government from the private sector is that government has the ability to mandate that you must use its service or [product]. You say that if we had a choice between the FBI and the private sector for instant background checks (a misnomer anyway), the FBI's $16 would be a steal. Unfortunately, we'll never know. The federal government has mandated the use of the NICS. By legislative fiat, the FBI has a monopoly on this service. One of the principal freedoms of a free man (or woman) is to make his (or her) own decisions. Even if private-sector substitutes for NICS were more expensive, the important thing is that people would have the choice to use them.

It is important for members of the federal government to realize that hundreds of people every day make decisions based on things besides cost. People boycott businesses who use goods manufactured in China. Why? Because the moral turpitude of the [nation] outweighs the $1.50 saved.

Government is inherently different from the private sector by virtue of the fact that there is no freedom to avoid its mandates. Thus, charging for a specific service, especially one tied to a constitutionally protected right, is nothing more than tax.

Congress is the only body that can demand payment from the American people. And even then, it can only be in the form of taxes. The FBI has no right, no duty and no authority to charge for a service that Congress has mandated the people of America to use. As the Constitution makes clear, Congress alone must fund the programs it mandates.

Daniel Hagan

via e-mail

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